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Mutinous Marines End Tense Stand-Off as Philippine Crisis Deepens

26 February 2006

A standoff with around 200 elite Filipino marine troops ended peacefully late Sunday, as the political crisis in the Philippines appeared to be deepening. The incident was sparked by removal of a popular commandant over his involvement in an alleged plot to overthrow the government.

Hundreds of mutinous Filipino marines, escorted by three armored vehicles, marched in formation, and gathered in front of their elite unit in a posh section of Manila to protest the relief of their popular commandant, Major General Renato Miranda.

Dozens of nuns and priests sang songs of peace and prayed the rosary, as thousands of people gathered outside the marine headquarters in the late afternoon, after Major General Renato Miranda called for the public to gather to protect the officers implicated in a coup plot.

Former President Corazon Aquino, a one time supporter of President Gloria Arroyo, who now is asking for her resignation, was barred from entering the military camp, but waited on a nearby road with her supporters.

President Arroyo declared a state of emergency Friday, saying her government had pre-empted a coup plot by disgruntled military officers and opposition members from both the left and the right.

Mrs. Arroyo invoked the decree as the country was about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the people power revolution that ousted the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Sunday's standoff ended abruptly about eight hours after it started, but little was given in the way of an explanation.

The new commandant of the marines, Brigadier General Nelson Allaga, after holing up with the ousted commandant and his officers for hours inside the marine headquarters, simply said an agreement had been reached.

"We made a decision," said General Allaga. "I am now the acting commandant. We will follow the chain of command, we will follow the constitution.

Opposition Senator Jun Magsaysay, who was at the marine headquarters, says the crisis in the Philippines is deepening.

"A few days ago we had emergency rule," said Jun Magsaysay. "That is what you call a creeping dictatorship. And this is not right. When you push too hard, after a while the people will unite, and maybe push back, and I think that point is about to be reached."

Mrs. Arroyo ordered all schools closed Monday in the Philippine capital.

Defying the demonstration band, around 500 protesters started gathering at the University of the Philippines late Sunday, vowing to stay there until Mrs. Arroyo resigns.

The United States Embassy spokesman in Manila, Matthew Lussenhop, says he is closely monitoring the situation.

"We hope and expect the Filipino people will seek peaceful solutions to the current situation through constitutional procedures," said Matthew Lussenhop. "And the U.S. strongly believes in the principal and practice of a civilian control of a professional and non-political military."

Mrs. Arroyo is continuing to round up her opponents. A former police chief and an opposition congressman have been detained for questioning, and an opposition newspaper was raided shortly after the state of emergency was invoked.

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